Book Notes & Thoughts: An Elusive Science, by Ellen Condliffe Lagemann

elusivescience

Every time I go to a conference, I try to bring a book to read, usually one that has been sitting on my shelf waiting for me. The book fills those little in-between moments of travel waiting in line or on the plane, downtime after sessions finish, or in the quiet time before bed when there are no children to be tucked in. This time it was An Elusive Science: The Troubling History of Education Research, by Ellen Condliffe Lagemann, former Harvard GSE dean and current research professor at Bard College. This was a nice follow up to reading and blogging about Reese’s history of K-12 schools, as that provided the context for Lagemann’s history of what was happening in research. As I become a member of this research community, this book gave me the historical perspective of my field.

My advisor, Rich Halverson, and Erica Halverson quote Lagemann in their chapter in the Sage Handbook, Education as Design for Learning, A Model for Integrating Education Inquiry Across Research Traditions. This was one of the foundation articles in how I think about education research. They draw on Lagemann to understand the foundations of educational research. As I try to formulate my own schema for situating design, improvement & innovation, and educational research & development, I wanted to understand the history of the field.

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Book Notes & Thoughts: America’s Public Schools, by William Reese

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America’s Public Schools: From the Common School to “No Child Left Behind,” by William J. Reese, 2011.

I subscribe to Larry Cuban’s blog, which means I get an email every few days with his historian perspective on new initiatives like Personalized Learning or Coding for All. As I work on my research to understand how change does (or does not) happen in education, I felt like some historical context might provide perspective on the conversations I am having today.

William Reese is a professor here at UW-Madison in Education Policy Studies and History, though I’ve not had the opportunity to take a class with him. I had previously read Pillars of the Republic, by Karl Kaestle and Shopping Mall High School, by Powell Farrar and Cohen, but I was particularly interested in this book about the more recent times of NCLB. Nonetheless, I learned much about the progressive era, Dewey, curriculum, urban vs. rural schools, and the wrestling of a common goal for public schools. One of the key trends that was new to me was the consistent assumption that held up urban schools as the ideal and rural schools as backwards. This is written as the dominant narrative of public schools, with some attention paid to integration orders after Brown v. Board and the different experiences of non-white and poor students in schools.

p. 13-14. “School-houses and churches are the true symbols of New England civilization, as temples, pyramids and mausoleums were the symbols of ancient civilizations,’ declared a college professor at mid[19th-]century…. Schools, he said, were not like clocks, once wound ticking of their own accord; someone needed to operate and guide them. Moreover, ‘no reform is carried in the State or the world without a reformer. Improvements originate with original minds, and are usually presented to the people by interested advocates.”

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Book Notes & Thoughts: Despite the Best of Intentions, by Lewis & Diamond

best of intentions

The fall semester kicks off tomorrow so I’ve been trying to get a jump on reading. One of my classes is called Race, Class, and Educational Inequality, with Professor John Diamond. He and Amanda Lewis recently (2015) published this book, Despite the Best of Intentions.

Goal of the book: Examine the school based factors of the “racial achievement gap” as it is enacted in practice at a well-resourced, affluent high school that explicitly states diversity as one of their values but still feels like two different schools.

Thesis: “Through a combination of the structural, institutional, and ideological forces and despite the best of intentions of most of those who work in, attend, and participate in the school, racial stratification gets reproduced in places like Riverview” (p.15).

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Book Notes & Thoughts: Inevitable, Mass Customized Learning

inevitable

They apparently couldn’t choose a title, so there are three:

Inevitable

Mass Customized Learning (MCL)

Learning in the Age of Empowerment

by Charles Schwahn & Beatric McGarvey

I’ll admit, I did more skimming on this one than usual as it is meant to be a vision to practice manual and I’m not actually working in a school right now. I’ve also been part of a research group studying personalized learning schools for the past year, which means I’ve heard and seen a lot of these stories. I think for teachers and leaders in traditional school settings, however, this could be a powerful book for reimagining what learning can look like. The authors do a nice job of pairing vignettes from multiple perspectives – students, teachers, parents, leaders – with specifics about support systems or assumptions that we make.

One of the most compelling and frustrating aspects of educational change is that “we all know these things. Yet, our behaviors do not support them.” (p.82) When you finally see the disconnect between the way we do school and the way we choose to do the rest of our lives, from shopping to listening to music to hanging out with friends, you can’t stop seeing it. Some people might challenge that school shouldn’t be the same as real life – it’s “work” after all, whatever that means. I was recently reading over an interview with one of the teachers in our study and she said that her former colleagues keep commenting how she looks so much more relaxed and happy this year. It seems we are all perpetuating a system that stresses us out (kids, parents, teachers, and leaders included) just because that’s the way it is and always has been? So much of what we do – one test for all kids, writing papers and getting feedback a week later, sitting in lectures – isn’t actually the best way to do it. If our purpose is to facilitate learning, if this is the function of schools, then the form of our schools needs to follow this (p.78). Capitalizing on the technology and resources that are already at our disposal means that it’s possible.

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Org Theory Reading Reflection 2: Teacher Turnover and Teacher Shortages

From https://thosewhoteach.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/blameteachers.jpg

This week’s assignment was to choose one article to summarize and analyze.

Ingersoll, R. M. (2001). Teacher Turnover and Teacher Shortages: An Organizational Analysis, American Educational Research Journal. 38(3): 499-534.

Having not yet taken Intro to Quantitative Methods, I still feel like I don’t quite grasp the full picture of articles like this because I don’t understand all the methods, but it helps that the article’s argument is clear and laid out logically from the literature review. Ingersoll articulates how his research is a departure from what has typically been done, which has been studies of the characteristics of teachers, versus a study from an organizational perspective. Essentially, he asks whether there are organizational conditions of schools associated with turnover. He uses data from the Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS) and the supplement, Teacher Followup Survey (TFS). Importantly, the TFS is a subset, those who had moved from or left their teaching jobs, were contacted after 12 months later to fill out a second questionnaire, along with a representative subset of teachers who stayed in their teaching jobs.

Some key findings:

  • Hiring difficulties were not primarily due to shortages in qualified teachers.
  • Demand for new teachers more often due to “preretirement turnover.”
  • School-to-school differences in turnover is significant: “Schools that do report difficulties in filling their openings are almost twice as likely to have above-average turnover rates” (p. 515)
  • Private schools have higher turnover rates than public schools.
  • Predictors of turnover, after controlling for teacher characteristics, are likely to be teachers under 30 or over 50.
  • In public schools, higher raters of turnover in high-poverty schools as compared to more affluent schools.

In particular, I liked the approach he took of distinguishing between “movers” and “leavers” because both have an impact on the schools they leave. I will say that quantitative articles always leave me hanging when they make interesting conclusions: but did you talk to any teachers? It feels like a first step in the study but an incomplete story in the process of understanding what is happening.

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Reading Notes: Ch. 1 & 2 of Social Network Theory and Educational Change

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Daly, A. J. (Ed.). (2010). Social network theory and educational change. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Education Press.

As part of my research this fall, I am making my way through this 2010 primer on Social Network Theory. I am going to try to blog summaries and reactions as a way to understand what I’m reading.

The big questions I’ve had over the past few years have all, in one way or another, been related to understanding “change trajectories,” to use a term that Judith Little uses in the Forward (p.xiii). I’ve observed top-down change be inspiring but ineffective at changing classrooms and bottom-up change also be inspiring but fade when the individual runs out of steam or moves on. This has drawn me to educational change that is facilitated by networks, where individual work moves toward a common goal in a way that feels coordinated and supported.

My big question: How do we understand educational change trajectories?

“Organizations are inherently relational. They are social systems consisting of people with differing interests, goals, and preferences, interacting, communicating, and making decisions” (p.29). It’s amazing how often this is ignored by proponents of a particular program who want to focus the product or goal rather than the relationships. I think what appeals to me in particular about SNT is the ability to use it’s theory and method at all levels and phases, whether it is situated practice, district curriculum goals, student graduation rater, etc. Our networks impact everything we do – it is the interstitial human stuff – and our “positions in a social structure have consequences” (p.17). Continue reading “Reading Notes: Ch. 1 & 2 of Social Network Theory and Educational Change”

Reaction 7: Blended Learning

Rocketship School, Retrieved from: http://www.onlineschools.com/imagesvr_ce/9968/rocket%20ed_feat.jpg

Articles this week:

Next Generation Learning. (2010). Report: Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Jacob, A. (2011). Benefits and Barriers to the Hybridization of Schools. Journal of Educational Policy, Planning, and Administration. 1(1): 61-82.

Obviously I am generally in favor of technology integration and am usually one who embraces change. In principle, I like the idea of blended learning as a way to provide students with a chance to test out of material they already know, go further ahead that their own pace, and customize content. I like the idea that this method could provide all students the opportunity to develop their skills. I will admit, however, that I objected to two things in this picture of technology integration by Jacob (2011) and in the Next Generation Learning Report (2010). The first is talking about schools in terms of efficiencies to reduce costs. The phrase that particularly stung was “substituting specialized software for expensive college-trained workers.” What happens in a place where children are “managed” by technicians? Isn’t that Sir Ken Robinson’s critique of the model we already have? Maybe one nostalgic ideal that I cling to is the foundational and formative relationship between student and teacher. I suppose better “products” may roll off the Khan Academy line, but are these going to be reflective, creative, self-aware 21st century citizens? When will they learn how to think and organize their own learning instead of following a playlist? I see the opportunity of blended learning as a way to free up time for a teacher so that he/she can spend more time on checking in with students, 1-on-1 instruction, or coaching student-led projects.

The second sticky point for me is that, even though many researchers and educators say that test scores are not an adequate the measure of a child’s learning, in the absence of other measures, this “achievement” number is still used. Jacob uses “value-added anaylsis of test scores” for the analysis of Carpe Diem Collegiate. These personalized learning programs, from what I’ve seen, are almost all math or reading, so it makes sense that they would perform better on math and reading tests. I remember teaching a science lesson that asked my students to do something very basic, like scale drawings. They were adamant they’d never seen anything like it, so I got their math text book and looked it up. Sure enough, they’d studied a whole chapter about it, but they couldn’t apply it outside of the textbook chapter. Are we assuming that students will be able to apply their Khan Academy math and or Read3000 outside of the program (and not just on another standardized test)?

These two points make me wonder what it means to be a learner in these school environments. In my opinion, blended learning is something that comes after, or at least in complement with, student-driven open inquiry within a learning community. Platforms such as Khan Academy or Read3000, that are effective at transferring skills, are part of a student’s toolkit, and I think they hold a lot of potential for freeing up teachers from repetition of the basics or for providing time/location flexibility in learning. I worry, though, about lack of continuity, whether this is the rapid change in platforms or the high turnover of teachers in charter schools, and the related erosion of a community of practice, both for teachers and students. Schools guided by efficiencies and products reminds me of our conversation about consultants: charter school organizations or educational entrepreneurs come in, provide some new software, see a bump in test scores, and leave. This is, in my opinion, a short-sighted vision of 21st century education that uses incredibly powerful and creative tools for basic skills.